I wanted Dylan to be at home today so that we could celebrate the solstice together. Marking the midwinter festival is a family tradition which involves holly-gathering, wreath-making and, as the light fades, decorating the tree while eating mince pies and vanilla kipferl. I could, I told myself, get some work done this morning and head up the valley for holly with Dylan before it got dark.
This year, however, our solstice celebration went awry. Because I had succumbed to Dylan’s request to buy a tree yesterday (an activity which was on his programme for today) when he woke up this morning he thought it was Tuesday. Dylan had wanted to decorate the tree when we got it home last night and although I saved some of the decorations for this morning (to keep the spirit of our solstice tradition) as far as Dylan was concerned, our midwinter celebration had already happened.
I know that Dylan accepts change to his timetable when required as I sometimes get reports of this from his care home manager. Yesterday’s premature solstice, however, was not so much a change as an acceleration. I was anxious that Dylan might stay a day ahead for the rest of the week: that could be tricky (and disappointing) on Thursday morning, it occurred to me. After trying, and failing, to explain this to Dylan I decided to give in to the situation; a trip to the cinema to see The Muppet Christmas Carol and a ride on the winter carousel would, I hoped, distract Dylan and fill his spare day.
This spare day was also, of course, the shortest day. As I watched Dylan, riding the painted horses in the gathering dark, I thought about my mum and of how she would have loved to see him on the carousel, today. The thought conjured the old ache, the one I get on the longest night each year.
I count the shortening days to Solstice Eve –
stand each advent afternoon in winter light.
A slant of sun casts this room into relief –
long shadows repossess the last white
breath of light. My simple Christmas wreath
greets the longest night. I ache for her bright
voice to praise my plaited ring of ivy leaves,
to ask (so we avoid repeats) what she might
give her grandchildren this year. I do believe
she’s gone – I wish there were some respite
from belief in loss. But even in the night
my clocks don’t stop; absence takes light
hold and keeps a steady watch. There’s no relief.
Night outruns the sun and days dissolve to grief.
Reading my poem tonight I am struck by the line ‘absence takes light hold and keeps a steady watch.’ Although I wrote the poem about my mum, I could equally apply the line to learning to live without Dylan: our hold on each other is lighter now, I think, but our watchfulness no less steady.
‘Solstice’ is the penultimate poem in a sonnet sequence, Kingfisher, written in response to my mother’s death. The sequence was published in my collection A Dart of Green and Blue (Arc Publications, 2010).
After writing this post I discovered that Dylan wasn’t the only one accelerating through Christmas week this year; apparently the Solstice fell on the 22nd, not the 21st as it usually does (due to some astronomical quirk I don’t profess to understand), which means I held my vigil a day early this year. I like the connections I sometimes find between myself and Dylan 🙂